A total of 386 patients who underwent complete resection of hepatocellular carcinoma over an 8-year period were assessed retrospectively for tumour recurrence. Some 219 (56.7 per cent) of the patients developed recurrence. Patients with a greater degree of cirrhosis showed a longer interval to recurrence; the median (range) interval until recurrence was 7.9 (1.8-84.2) months in patients with a normal liver, 13.4 (2.0-79.5) months in those with chronic hepatitis and 16.7 (1.5-73.1) months in those with cirrhosis. Intrahepatic recurrence was observed more frequently in either the same (26.4 per cent) or the adjacent (24.8 per cent) Healey segment than in the lobe contralateral to the primary tumour (17.8 per cent). The presence of portal venous invasion and/or intrahepatic metastasis, underlying liver cirrhosis and perioperative blood transfusion were determined to be independent predictors of recurrence by multivariate analysis. Because intrahepatic spread of hepatocellular carcinoma occurs in a segment-by-segment manner, surgeons should use an anatomically wide resection within the hepatic functional reserve.